Military Lecture: The Evolution of Canadian Export Policy, 1946-1991
Speaker: Paul Esau
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For more than three decades, successive Canadian governments have tied themselves in knots to justify the sale of Canadian-produced weapons to Saudi Arabia. Yet the Saudi sales are only the latest chapter in a history of arms sales to conflict regions which extends back to the Second World War, and includes customers from all over the world. These sales have contradicted both Canada’s foreign policy in general, as well as the specific military export restrictions which are supposed to constrain Canadian arms sales to certain destinations.
From a historical perspective this hypocrisy is the norm, rather than the exception. For nearly 80 years the Canadian government has been attempting to decide what can be sold to whom, and why – while constantly revising its decision to allow for the next lucrative arms sale. Still, how does a country which has consistently committed to upholding democracy, human rights and peacekeeping also justify consistently selling weapons to undemocratic and repressive regimes in conflict regions? The answer reveals a remarkable story of creative policy-making, bureaucratic bumbling, cultivated innocence, and occasional scandal.